Origins, journeys, and returning

Themes from Heidi Barr’s new book help readers find the unique ways in which they contribute to the healing of the world.




5 minute read

Heidi Barr

Heidi Barr is a writer of abundance—of ideas, words, projects and books. Her first book, Prairie Grown (a cookbook), came out in 2016 and, since then, she’s written and published one a book a year. 

Collisions of Earth and Sky, her latest book (out January 31) is a collection of reflections, poetry, and invitations to discovery. I spoke with Heidi by email to ask about her prodigious amount of work, the themes in Collisions, and finding inspiration in her daily life.

St. Croix 360: This is your seventh book in as many years. What inspires such an abundance of writing and publishing?

Heidi Barr: I’ve always written a lot, so I tend to have a large pool of existing work (even if only in journals or random word documents) to pull from. My process for several of my titles has included excavating the writing that I have for themes and building from there.  

I don’t know if I’d say I feel a sense of urgency to write, but rather a call to use my voice in the medium that, for me as a pretty introverted person, is most effective. Writing has become an important way of entering the collective conversation. 

Most of my writing begins when there are no pens, pencils, journals, paper, devices or computers in sight. I run [in the summer] or Nordic ski in the winter the little two-mile loop around my house or hike a local trail most days of the week, and my inspiration comes when I’m out there moving through the elements. 

A few words that eventually become a poem will pop into my head while navigating a rocky trail.  An image gets stuck in my mind’s eye during a lazy day on the river that eventually turns into a scene. A phrase latches onto my brain as my feet move methodically, one step after the other, under a canopy of trees or the heat of the midday sun, and it’s the foundation of the chapter of a book.

As Annie Dillard wrote, “Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.” There is always something to notice, and I think that’s what keeps me going. The well doesn’t run dry—even if some days it feels like it will!

St. Croix 360: What are some of the key themes in Collisions of Earth and Sky? What inspired the title?

HB: The key themes in the book are origin, journey, and returning—using mindfulness and self-inquiry to uncover the version of yourself that is best equipped to contribute to the healing of the world.

The book itself is an invitation to live in a way that is attuned to nature, paying attention to what’s going on inside ourselves and in the larger collective. Though it’s a nonfiction narrative, there are several poems, and each section starts with a different poetic “Invitation.”

I’m an advocate of looking all the way up on a regular basis, and when you do that you can’t help but notice how the earth—often in the form of tree tops—collides with the sky.

I grew up on the South Dakota prairie, and there, instead of trees, when you look out over the open plains and the rolling grasses, you see all sorts of collisions: the grass with the wind, the dust that blows across the gravel roads, the way one cloud breaks up a vast sea of blue horizon.

The forces in our lives are constantly colliding—sometimes in ways that work out well and sometimes in ways that don’t. I wanted to explore what it means to work with the collisions, rather than against them. This means digging into how humans and nature interact—from our relationships with other humans, non-humans, and ourselves—to our relationship with the landbase to our role in the story of the world.

St. Croix 360: What is something you would like people to gain from reading Collisions?

HB: This little portion from the introduction to the book sums up my intentions pretty well!

I hope you, my fellow traveler on this journey of living, will move a few more steps toward more fully embracing your own creatureliness, your own place in this great web we all share, and let that be a foundation even when there are more questions than answers.

Perhaps you’ll even discover a few things you didn’t know were missing by hiking with me through these pages. I hope, through truth telling and having compassion for yourself and your fellow beings, that you’ll find your own way to live the questions—with nature as your guide. Because when we let nature inform that self-inquiry and reflect on what comes up when we do, little by little, we uncover the parts of ourselves that can best contribute to the healing of the world.

St. Croix 360: You spend a lot of time on the land acknowledgement in this book, including pointing out the shortcomings in the way that many land acknowledgements are written. In what ways would you like to see the use of land acknowledgements change, and why?

HB: My view on land acknowledgment is definitely ever evolving. I struggled a lot with whether or not to even include one in this book as it seemed like just another form of virtue signaling or making it look like I’m trying to “do the right thing.” 

My friend Chris LaTray, a Metis writer living in Montana, has written a lot on the subject over the years, and I can vividly remember when he said, “Land acknowledgments are the liberals’ version of ‘thoughts and prayers.’” 

From what I can tell in listening and paying attention, so often a land acknowledgement is just a thing to check off the list. For it to actually mean something, it has to be followed by action. 

I’m no expert, of course, and there are a great many Indigenous folks who are more well equipped to speak to this than I am, so I’ll stop here and suggest a few reading assignments: Beyond Land Acknowledgement: A Guide from the Native Governance Center and Land Acknowledgements by Chris LaTray.

St. Croix 360: How can people obtain their own copy of Collisions

HB: Valley Bookseller in Stillwater will have signed copies on their shelves by early February, and you can always order from them, too, if they run out. It’s also available at any online retailer and many brick-and-mortar bookshops. 

A release celebration will be held on February 3 at Wilberg Memorial Public Library of Osceola. Originally, the event was to be held at the Natural Heritage Art Centre, but a recent fire has forced events there to be relocated. 

I will be joined in reading by other St. Croix Valley writers, Adam Pieri-Johnson, River Maria Urke, Debbie Trantow, Heidi Fettig Parton, and Kathleen Melin. Chrystal Odin and Aiyana Sol Machado of Philadelphia Community Farm (an area nonprofit that is featured in the book) will also be present to share information on the work PCF is doing. There will be an opportunity for getting a book signed, fellowship, and Q&A as well. Plus, a portion of the book proceeds will go toward the Natural Heritage Art Centre’s fire restoration fund.

St. Croix 360: What are you working on now?

HB: I’m focused on publishing a weekly newsletter installment called “Ordinary Collisions” and my ongoing wellness coaching work. I’ll also be doing a fair bit of book promotion in the weeks to come. 

In addition to Collisions, I’ve been working on editing an anthology that comes out on February 7 called In Search of Simple: Field Notes from Near and Far on Slow Living. This anthology explores what it can look like to seek out slow living and embrace a life steeped in intentionality.

Heidi Barr is a writer and wellness coach who lives with her family in rural Minnesota. She has over fifteen years of experience in health promotion. Heidi’s work is founded on a commitment to cultivating ways of being that are life-giving and sustainable for people, communities, and the planet.

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Photos courtesy of Heidi Barr.


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Origins, journeys, and returning